In recent months, government hospitals in Punjab have been grappling with a severe shortage of crucial medicines, significantly impacting patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). This concerning situation has persisted for the past three months, and the gravity of the issue has escalated in the last month, with hospitals running out of seven out of nine essential medicines required for the treatment of MDR-TB patients.
The Alarming Shortage
Medicines in Short Supply
The scarcity encompasses vital medications, including pyrazinamide 750mg, levofloxacin, rifampicin 150mg, cycloserine, clofazimine, isoniazid, and linezolid. These medications are integral to the effective treatment of MDR-TB, and the shortage has left many patients in a precarious position.
Impact on Patients
Patients undergoing treatment under the national TB control program find themselves in a dire situation, being advised to purchase these critical medicines from private medical stores. However, this recommendation proves futile as even private medical stores are grappling with the unavailability of these medicines, given that the government is the primary supplier.
The Consequences of the Crisis
Extended Treatment Periods
MDR-TB, caused by resistance to more than two anti-TB drugs, necessitates patients to undergo a rigorous treatment regimen lasting up to 18 months. Any interruption or gap in the course could lead to treatment failure or the development of resistance to additional drugs, posing a significant threat to patients’ well-being.
Strain on Healthcare System
The shortage of these vital medicines not only places patients at risk but also exerts immense pressure on the healthcare system. Government hospitals are now left to grapple with the ethical dilemma of prioritizing patients based on the availability of medicines, further exacerbating the strain on an already overburdened healthcare infrastructure.
Insights from Healthcare Professionals
Testimonies from the Frontline
Dr. Guntash Kaur, a medical officer at the TB unit of the civil hospital in Sangrur, expressed the challenges faced by hospitals in the wake of this critical shortage. “We have not received any supply for the past one month. I contacted private chemist shops to make arrangements for medicines. But the medicines are not available at these chemist shops as well,” she stated, highlighting the severity of the situation.
Sangrur Civil Surgeon, Dr. Parminder Kaur, reassured the public that the demand for medicines has been communicated to the state health department, and they have been assured of a prompt response. However, this assurance provides little comfort to patients urgently in need of these life-saving medications.
Unraveling the Root Cause
Disruption in the Supply Chain
An official from the health department revealed that while hospitals were previously receiving approximately 10% of their demanded supply, for the past month, the state health department has ceased the supply of the majority of the medicines. This disruption in the supply chain has left hospitals scrambling to find alternative sources to meet the pressing needs of their patients.
Collaboration with Jan Aushadhi Kendras
Dr. Rajesh Bhaskar, the nodal officer for the national TB control program, shed light on the shift in the procurement process. “Earlier, the medicine was being supplied by the Centre under the national TB control program. The Centre has run out of stock, and they have directed us to purchase it locally. Therefore, we have further directed districts to purchase it on their own. The medicines are available in Jan Aushadhi Kendras, but districts were not aware of it. Now the department has informed them, and a few districts have already started purchasing from Jan Aushadhi Kendras.”
The shortage of critical medicines for drug-resistant TB patients in Punjab is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention and resolution. The impact on patients, the strain on healthcare facilities, and the disruption in the supply chain highlight the urgency of finding swift and effective solutions. As we navigate these challenging times, collaboration between government bodies, healthcare professionals, and alternative suppliers such as Jan Aushadhi Kendras becomes paramount to ensure uninterrupted access to life-saving medications for those in need.